It’s time to put the word "breakthrough" on ice.
After heartbreaking losses against Michigan and Michigan State in back-to-back weeks, IU Coach Tom Allen’s mantra about earning that elusive victory over a ranked Big Ten team shouldn’t be the focus anymore.
Instead, the rest of the season is just about getting by.
Breakthrough was exactly what IU could’ve done in those two games, but the Hoosiers couldn’t finish. Their motto was a good talking point until they failed to put that motto to work.
IU has kept games close this season and has played relatively well. This has earned the Hoosiers praise from opposing coaches.
“They were so complimentary of how hard we play, how well we've played, how physical we are, how tough our kids are,” Allen said. “Just the way we've just battled and fought against really good football teams. They're impressed.”
IU’s defense is impressive, but losing close games against Big Ten teams shouldn’t be impressive.
For one season, that was fine, but we are now in year three of IU being so close, but always coming up short.
With IU traveling to Maryland this weekend, the word breakthrough should be forgotten. Instead, the word of the season should just be “survive.”
IU’s position in the Big Ten is squarely between the haves and the have nots. The Hoosiers have reached two straight bowl games and have been on the precipice of turning the corner.
That’s why this last stretch of games is so important. Starting against Maryland, IU will play four teams that reside at the bottom of the Big Ten. Those games are important because they could help IU prove that the Hoosiers are the best of the rest in the Big Ten.
“Obviously, we've played some really good, talented teams,” Allen said. “I know a lot of teams have tough schedules, so that's part of it. We knew that going in. Now we've got to be able to allow ourselves to learn from those and execute in those key situations.”
IU played four of the five best Big Ten teams to start the season.
Ohio State is currently the first ranked team in Bill Connelly’s S&P+ analytic ranking, while Penn State is ranked third, Michigan State is ranked 20th and Michigan is ranked 26.
That’s a murderer’s row of an opening stretch for the Hoosiers, but the scary thing is, that's how it’s going to be for the immediate future.
All four of those Big Ten East division foes are well equipped to stay at their current level of talent, or even improve.
A breakthrough into that group of four teams is likely impossible for IU. The Hoosiers just don’t have the resources or the pedigree to compete against those teams for the division crown.
What IU is capable of is consistently beating the lower tier teams in the Big Ten. That quest starts Saturday.
The season is not lost. Four winnable games remain for IU and the Hoosiers could possibly win seven games for the first time in a decade and a second time since 1995.
That’s still on the table.
Maybe that’s not the breakthrough that Allen wants, but it’s what’s left for him to accomplish in his first season as head coach.
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